Fairtrade Carbon Credits

 On Tuesday co2balance joined a roundtable hosted by the UK Fairtrade Foundation to discuss the opportunities and challenges of making and selling fairtrade carbon offset projects.  The Fairtrade Foundation have signed an MOU with the Gold Standard Foundation to allow these proposed projects  to use existing Gold Standard carbon certification with an additional fairtrade bolt on to certify the supply chain of the carbon offset.  This added integrity will hopefully command a premium price on top of a regular Gold Standard project and, as with any other fairtrade certified product, a floor price for a fairly traded carbon offset will be imposed.  This will ensure that producers of the carbon receive a fair reward for their efforts to combat climate change and it will also mean that project developers who assist them to tap into the carbon market will benefit. 

 Co2balance are keen to support this fledgling scheme and are looking to be one of the first project developers to road test a fairly traded carbon offset project by mid 2015.  Stay tuned to our blog to see how we fare.

Solar in Africa

Im sure all of us have heard the urban myth that simply by harnessing a small part of the Sahara desert Africa has the potential to supply the whole world’s electricity demand.. it is in fact true.  The concept of using deserts as a kind of global solar power plant was first proposed by Dr Gerhard Knies, a particle physicist who began investigating potential clean energy supplies following the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.  He arrived at the following remarkable statistic: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.  Deserts are by their nature remote, forbidding places but the practicalities of installing photovoltaic (PV) panels and using thousands of kilometres of high voltage DC cable to transmit the electricity are, thanks to modern technological advancements, all theoretically feasible.  Indeed, it remains a serious proposition, with the well funded Desertec Foundation committed to harnessing sustainable power from sites where renewable sources of energy are more abundant (like deserts) and transferring it through high voltage DC transmission to consumption centres.  But doesnt it all sound like the kind of thing a James Bond villain might get up to?

Whilst global energy use has probably doubled since Dr Knies did his initial calculations, his point remains that deserts do still offer a massive untapped resource of carbon neutral electricity – but then again, so does the African continent at large.  ImageAfrica has one of the highest solar irradiation levels in the world but there is a slight hitch – two thirds of the continent are not grid connected.  Under this scenario, home-grown power from the likes of the Sahara, Kalahari and Namib deserts as envisioned by the Desertec Foundation would be unavailable to the majority of the continent producing it, which hardly seems fair.

Fortunately, there is a way for non grid-connected communities to benefit from the immense solar resources of the African continent and access sustainable energy to make small yet significant changes in livelihoods.  Solar Kerosene Replacement Lamps, domestic PV panels, school and community PV panels, PV vaccine refrigerators, village level solar ‘kiosks’ – all of which offer decentralised, largely maintenance free sources of energy which is something co2balance has long been committed to exploring in its projects.

Its a fact that in Africa, PV panels will either replace expensive, polluting fossil fuels in peoples homes (kerosene), noisy and expensive diesel generators (communities) or in most cases supply a clean source of energy where previously there was none.  We have already seen what the mobile phone has done in Africa and the innovation that has flourished in the wake of its meteoric rise (phone based finanicial services like MPESA offering banking to the traditionally ‘unbankable’, flows of information through social media etc). The continent is now on track to reach 1 Billion mobile phone subscriptions by 2015; lets hope universal access to solar electricity on this sunniest of continents mirrors this stellar rise – who knows what innovations may follow?

First Gold Standard Borehole Rehabilitation Project Registered!

  After many months hard work, our borehole rehabilitation project in Kole District, Northern Uganda has achieved Gold Standard Registered status. This means that we can fund new sources of water in this project using carbon finance – which contrasts with other carbon finance projects that can only fund water treatment technology. 

ImageThis is the first time that Gold Standard have registered a project of this kind and because it was without precedent, it required an extraordinary amount of revisions, proofs, studies and technical arguments to satisfy the GS independent Technical Advisory Committee that the project was worthy of Gold Standard status.  Every single step was handled in house by co2balance so we were perhaps able to bring to bear a tenacity that other project developers could not – as the time and expense spent doing multiple, additional studies i’m sure would have put most other developers reliant on consultants off a long time ago! 


But of course, its not just about our internal journey getting to this point; this project is truly groundbreaking for what it promises can be achieved for thousands of villages and communities across Africa.  It is estimated that as many as 60% of the boreholes ever drilled are now unused and the main reason for this is simply because the hand-operated pumping mechanism that draws water to the surface is broken.  Africa is blessed with a huge underground aquifer of pure water – that is in some places 75m deep – an appalling irony in a continent that has 300 million people without access to clean drinking water.  What we have shown is possible in Kole opens up the prospect that the ethical investment community can now help this abundant, yet hard to reach, natural resource be harvested simply and sustainably for the benefit of local people. 


  Over the coming months, we will be rolling out a number of other borehole rehabilitation and installation projects with other partners in other countries.  If you would like to hear how we get on, stay tuned to this blog! 



Mangrove Conservation project

Whilst visiting our improved cookstove projects near Mombasa on the Coast in Kenya, I took some time out to go and see the good work that Mbuta Mazingira have been doing following a start up fund supplied by Toshiba TEC, in association with co2balance.  Mbuta Mazingira trained in 2010 to protect, rear and plant seedlings to replace mangroves that were deforested by people from the network of communities living nearby.


The importance of mangroves was not well understood by these local communities and it is an unfortunate fact that mangrove wood can be harvested and converted into excellent charcoal, which can be sold to a ready market in nearby Mombasa as a way of boosting low incomes.

Mangroves are nature’s barrier against coastal erosion from tides and also act as a buffer against storm surges and hurricanes; owing to the fact that the flow of receding ocean water is slowed by the dense sprawl of mangrove roots, deposition of silt is encouraged.  This provides a regular supply of nutrients on which the mangrove trees can flourish, expand and attract other organisms, such as crab, shrimp, oysters and lobster that shelter their young within the rambling roots. These in turn attract various species of commercially important fish to feed on the smaller ocean life teeming within.


It was therefore a bitter irony that many of the local communities that deforested the mangroves were fisherfolk that had turned to charcoal production to supplement their recent poor fish and shellfish catches.  In this way, they were unknowingly part of a cycle that led to lower and lower catches and a greater need to find increasingly desperate, unsustainable ways of boosting their incomes.


In addition to a planting campaign that has now seen 250,000 seedlings established, Mbuta Mazingira focused their efforts on educating these fisher communities that protecting mangroves will actually increase and stabilise their long term income.  During my visit to the mangroves, it was an uplifting experience to see that those who were originally responsible for the destruction of the mangroves are now the ones who are patrolling day and night to ensure that others do not make the same mistake.  It was clear to me that this was the very definition of a sustainable project; when the community you are working with takes the project you have helped start and makes it their own, you know the future is in safe hands.